The sashimi at Nasime in Alexandria shows up on a plate but merits a frame. Art you can eat, the selection collects blushing slices of bigeye tuna that go down like butter from the sea, ribbons of marbled salmon dappled with shimmering roe and raw branzino anointed with ponzu jelly. Tucked into the display are minty shiso and split Key limes. Pink and green, subtle and shocking, it’s the kind of food you pause to admire before you take your first bite and eat leisurely so as to delay a clean plate.
Chef-owner Yuh Shimomura, 43, graduated from Catholic University in 1997 with a degree in psychology. Of greater significance to diners is what he did after school: return to his native Tokyo and train for seven years with the chef of a small Japanese restaurant, then return to Washington where he worked at Kaz Sushi Bistro downtown and Sei in Penn Quarter. Most recently, he cooked at a small, Japanese-inspired bed-and-breakfast, Pembroke Springs Retreat, outside Winchester, Va. For his debut restaurant, he chose “not too trendy” (his words) Old Town, where he offers a single, five-course tasting menu six nights a week for $48.
You’ll want to book a table; there are only 20 seats at Nasime. On a recent winter night, I watched as three parties without reservations were politely turned away from the slip of a restaurant, carved from part of a neighboring light store. Along with the alluring sashimi, the would-be diners missed an introduction of chive-flecked lobster poached in sake and embellished with sea urchin and a third course of marinated sea bass and gently fried yams nestled within an upturned magnolia leaf. Before serving, the dried sail is brushed with miso, which releases the leaf’s aroma. Dinner took a hearty turn with a pot of rice (regular mixed with sticky) bulked up with braised pork belly, shredded burdock, mushrooms and a poached egg for stirring into the goods.
To finish, the chef himself dropped off a scoop of nicely chewy miso ice cream garnished with a fragile spring roll filled with red bean paste.
Shimomura, who shops daily for his menu, is visible behind a front counter looking into the kitchen. “I want to be close to my guests,” he says.
Don’t expect your dinner to match mine, dish for dish. Yet verbal reviews from his patrons suggest return engagements for oxtail ramen noodle soup and lamb chops flavored with sancho peppers (actually a numbing member of the citrus family). The spare white dining room seems to be designed to draw eyes to the food.
Nasime, says Shimomura, is a made-up name combining three Japanese words. Together, they more or less capture the idea of “moving ahead.”
Five engaging courses for less than $50 is a bargain made possible by a small staff. Nasime has a single server and the chef cooks everything himself.
The result is one-of-a-kind Japanese dining in the suburbs.
1209 King St., Alexandria. 703-548-1848. nasimerestaurant.com. Five-course tasting menu $48.